A Review of 3 Very Different Keyboards

I’m about to provide a basic evaluation of three new keyboards. Before I do, though, I have to raise an issue about keyboard portability. Notebook computers, or tablet convertibles, typically fold over the keyboard, protecting them from the harsh jiggling they are likely to encounter during travel.

Most mobile keyboards don’t protect themselves, and there are no third-party accessories for third-party keyboards. For instance, I’ve outfitted my MacBook Air with a Moshi Clearguard ($24.95) to protect it from spills. And of course, the Mac closes to protect the keyboard itself. Some keyboards, like the Logitech Tablet Keyboard for Windows and Android includes its own case to protect the keyboard during transport.

To some degree, the following keyboards are all designed for mobility. They are battery powered, relatively compact, and Bluetooth enabled. All of them have exposed keys, though none offer covers and nothing protects them from spills. I think it is an interesting fact that the market for standalone keyboards has developed rather robustly, and really from the earliest days of the PC, but in the mobile market, some of the issues of mobility aren’t yet routinely addressed.

Well, there is a thought for the day. And now on to the keyboard reviews.

 

Inatek BK1003E Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard

I have evaluated many keyboards, and this is one of the prettiest on the market. The BK1003E ($39.99) rivals the standard Apple keyboard in style. The BK1003E has a wonderful small footprint, a great key layout, and a base that is made of shiny metal. Although the keyboard works with the iPad, the BK1003E is clearly not an Apple-oriented product, in that where “Command” should go, the keyboard has an “Alt” key and next to it, is a “Win” key. After roaming CES I’m not surprised by the quality or quirkiness of the implementation.  There were dozens of booths from Chinese manufacturers with keyboards and cables, all looking for global distribution. Germany’s Inateck clearly acquires designs from China (I have received some evaluation units that are available in the US from other distributors). They found a winner with the BK1003E.

The built-in battery is rechargeable and lasts for about 30 days on standby. Key travel is good, layout is spacious, and keys are in the right spots for touch typists. This is a slick keyboard and a worthy purchase if it is available in your market, most likely through Amazon.

 

Matias Laptop Pro (Mac Version)

I remember when keyboards were keyboards and portable PCs weighed twenty eight pounds. Well, I love tiny computers, but keyboards have definitely deteriorated overall, especially for those of us who learned to type on, um, what were those called—oh, IBM Selectrics.  With the Laptop Pro ($169.95) Matias looks back to the Apple Extended Keyboard II for inspiration, but Apple looked to IBM.

Not only are the keys big with plenty of travel, Matias has built in sensors that allow people to hit many keys at the same time, eliminating those lost characters so common with modern keyboards that limit time between keystrokes. In other words, with the Laptop Pro, writers can type as fast as they can and the keyboard will keep up.

The Laptop Pro is a bit hefty, but it is because of its mechanical switches and rather large battery (1,600 mAh.). A single charge will last between six months and a year. It charges via USB, and will also pass charges through to other devices with enough electrical input.

As much as I like the general design of the keyboard, I find the power button under engineered. I would rather see it ship with a standard on-off switch, rather than a multi-purpose push-button that controls on, off, and pairing. Compared to the robustness of the rest of the design this little switch on the back feels and looks like an afterthought. Clear plastic legs lift the keyboard to the perfect typing position, and fold easily for lap use.

The Matias Laptop Pro keyboard is a great accessory for writers and those who spend all day entering data. You won’t find a keyboard like this anywhere else. If you want a retro look for your office, or just a great professional typing experience, this the best keyboard on the market.

(Note, although I tested this keyboard on the iPad, it has been adopted by my Mac Mini as its main input device).

 

Logitech K480

Logitech is the dog breeder of the keyboard world, and I mean that in a very positive way. Dogs are the most malleable of animals in terms of how a single species can express its genes in so many different ways, yet still remain a dog. Logitech has found a similar formula for keyboards, and the K480 ($49.99) is their latest example.

I would call the K480 is a slab keyboard. It is heavy, flat, and it doesn’t tilt. What is does do, however, is quickly shift between three different devices using an elegant and responsive dial (as does their more elegant K811 Bluetooth Easy-Switch keyboard, but using buttons not a dial). That, feature, however, is pretty unique in the under-$50 keyboard market. It is even more unique in that it offers device specific pairings, with options for Apple and PC/Android. Using the special pairing changes the behavior of the some of the keys to better align with operating system expectations.

One of the reasons Logitech has so many keyboards is that keyboards, also like dogs, serve niche markets. You would be hard pressed for a lover of Great Danes to find themselves in permanent company with a Shih Tzu. So for people who own devices of multiple types, along with a PC, this might be just the right keyboard for them, because it is built for people who regularly shift between PC, tablet, and phone. A rubberized slot can hold an iPad and and an iPhone at the same time. 

As for the downside, I already described this keyboard as a heavy slab. That in itself isn’t a problem. I don’t like the lack of tilt. At least on my desk I feel like I’m reaching over the keyboard to type. It is also an issue on desk drawers without hidden hinges. Whereas keyboards with feet can straddle the hinge, this keyboard is just there. I’ve already attached bit third-party rubber feet to solve both issues. I also am not a fan of the keys themselves, perhaps the most important item on a keyboard for typists. But I suspect this keyboard isn’t for typists, but for people who text or fire off other short missives. It’s a keyboard for the modern collaborative worker, not for the full-time writer (for that, see the Mathias keyboard above).

Finally, I wish the rubberized device slot was wider, or that it had sizing inserts, because like many accessories made for iPad, it assumes a relatively naked device. If you keep your iPhone or iPad in a case of any thickness, the slot becomes useless. I don't know too many people with Otterbox cases willing to dislodge their iPads just to type.

On the positive side, unlike the K811 keyboard, the K480 uses standard AAA batteries for power. Its low-power design, will keep those batteries for running up to two-years according to the website. A hard specification to test. I like the AAA batteries because if you do need a refresh on the road, you won’t have to wait for a charge).

Well, I’m a Labradoodle guy and a writer, so this isn’t going to become my keyboard of choice, but it does sit on the desk behind me ready to send back a text. The K480 reflects the solid quality build people expect from Logitech, so if it fits your use pattern, I wouldn’t discourage your from buying one. This might just be the perfect keyboard for the lap desk.

 

IBM Selectric Image from Wikipedia

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Daniel Rasmus's picture

Author Details

Daniel Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus is the Founder and Principal Analyst at Serious Insights. He is the author of Listening to the Future, Management by Design and Sketches of Spain and Other Poems. Rasmus teaches at Bellevue College where he teaches Social Media and Personal Branding.